Surrounding the holiday season, there are certain treats that each person definitively loves. These are usually the ones that are rooted in tradition, instilled early into our culinary repertoire from childhood December afternoons. As absurd as these treats may seem twenty years later (such as cornflake wreaths dyed bright green and studded with cinnamon candies), we cling to them because of the fresh stubbornness that children so often possess. The young protagonist in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Paloma, moves beyond Christmas cookies and into opinions about her family and all of humanity. She is steadfast and seemingly unchangeable, and clings to her beliefs the way I cling to cornflake wreaths.
There are also the treats that we definitively reject. I have always avoided eggnog because of its too-thick texture and extreme sweetness. However, as the little girl Paloma slackened the rigidity of her original outlook, I have decided to embrace eggnog, creating a way in which to change the texture completely and offset the sweetness, and ultimately converting the holiday drink into a wafer cookie (and potential ice cream garnish).
Many people are often hesitant about reading translated novels. Idioms and the flow of certain dialogues get lost when not in their original language. The reader puts great trust in the translator to achieve the same effect, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of the most gorgeous translations I have ever read. Successful conversions such as this one give me the confidence to know that the elegance of eggnog can be translated into delicious Christmas cookies.
Cognac Christmas cookie batter:
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
3/4 cup (about 14 tablespoons) unsalted butter
6 egg whites
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Cognac (or any brandy)
Chocolate ganache (optional):
200 g dark baking chocolate
Heavy cream to cover (about 3/4 cup)
1. Whisk softened butter, icing sugar, and Cognac in medium bowl until creamy. Add egg whites gradually, whisking until completely incorporated into the mixture. Mix in flour in three separate batches.
2. For wafer disk assembly: on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread several tablespoons of batter as thinly and evenly as possible. Place baking sheet in 350 degree oven and let cook for about five minutes, until edges just begin to brown. Remove and immediately cut out small disks in the dough (I used an espresso cup as a template, but a shot glass or ring cutter would also work). Lay individual disks back onto the baking sheet, and cook (crisp up) in the oven for another two minutes. Let cool at room temperature.
3. For shape outline assembly: transfer part of the batter into a piping bag, making the tiniest opening possible at the tip. The key to these cookies is their thinness, so pipe very thin lines onto parchment paper for the outline of your Christmas drawing. Simple designs can be candy cane, basic snowflake, snowman with top hat, or Christmas tree. Allow to cook in 350 degree oven for three minutes, until the outline is golden-blonde. When cooled, very delicately remove from parchment paper with spatula.
4. In small saucepan, heat double cream until just at a boil. Pour over baking chocolate in a bowl, let rest for 30 seconds, and then whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Dip cooled wafer disks into chocolate, then let dry on wire rack.
Enjoy Cognac Christmas cookies with Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!